Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Bloody Chiclets: Toronto Maple Leafs Melodrama and Hockey Radio

Leafs logoA simple, half-baked explanation used to describe the psychology behind the habits and style of business managers, is the "first rater, second rater" theory.

The first rater is the manager who is competent, motivated and concerned only about surrounding himself with the best possible people and achieving results. He will hire other first raters in an attempt to accomplish these goals, unconcerned by such petty things as internal competition or the possibility that he may not be the smartest person in the room.

The second rater, on the other hand, is a bundle of fears, insecurities and complexes. His every move and utterance is motivated by the desire to protect himself from criticism and at all costs, maintain his tenuous control over whatever situation he has blundered into.

The biggest threat to the second rater is the competence of others, for it highlights his shortcomings and risks unmasking him for the fraud that he is. To avoid such a catastrophe, the second rater will only hire those less capable than him, guaranteeing that he is the lead buffoon amongst a collection of screw-ups, failures and degenerates.

At least in the hockey side of operations at MLSE, the recent comments from Richard Peddie certainly hold him up as a second rater candidate. That he doesn't recognize his admissions put the focus on his failings as much as anyone else's, at least demonstrates he is out of his depth.

He was thrilled at the notion that John Ferguson Junior was almost completely inexperienced? Scotty Bowman, the coach with the most successful record in NHL history, was deemed unworthy as a potential GM or president? Add in the statement that the hiring of Ferguson was a "mistake," and it seems that he is more concerned with trying to stage-manage his own image (and failing miserably) than with the Leafs' on-ice performance.

Listening to Peddie on a recent edition of Leafs Lunch discussing these comments, he came across as a smug, dismissive dilettante thrilled at the position he occupies. Luxuriating in the fact that he is part of the board of directors of MLSE while apparently unperturbed by how ridiculous he makes himself and the organization look, more than a few people must have wished they could have reached through the radio and wrung his neck.

As for Ferguson, it's unfortunate that he has to face this kind of public criticism from the people who hired him. There is no way for him to respond in kind if he has any hope of finding another job in the NHL after this disaster reaches its conclusion. Nor can he resign without being attacked for being a quitter. He has to ride out whatever number of weeks or months remain in his time as Leafs' general manager. Regardless of how you feel about Ferguson and his record with the Leafs, this benefits the team in no way and only serves as a distraction.

Ferguson also spoke on the same radio program and it was a rambling, semi-coherent defense of a situation that has slowly spiraled out of control. While verbal skills may not be the most important aspect of being a successful GM in the NHL, the inability to articulate oneself in such a situation only increases the sense of desperation.

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Speaking of hockey radio, there are some very good programs out there, many of which can be downloaded as podcasts. There are a few common patterns that show up on many of them.

On each show there is at least one dyspeptic old bastard who been around so long no one quite remembers when he was hired. He is usually very knowledgeable about the game and has a history as player, coach or manager. Mixed in with the interesting comments is the occasional flash of genuine annoyance or momentary lapse from old age.

A musty, rancid miasma oozes out of the speakers and elicits images of decades-old wardrobes, pharmaceutical cocktails and impending dementia and leaves a person feeling slightly wretched though entertained.

A younger host with his own stockpile of information and experience in playing or covering the game is usually present. Often there is good give and take between the two and even some exaggerated exchanges. While most of the program hosts avoid veering into sycophant territory, without fail they all possess a brittle, fake laugh offered up whenever the old bastard or another guest makes a pointed attempt at humour.

The conscious decision must be made by these broadcasters at some point to develop such a staged response. Perhaps they realize how unfunny most people are or that the uncomfortable silence would be a worse option. This is contrasted with the unexpected bark of real laughter when something spontaneous sets them off.

The speaking style of sports radio broadcasters varies a great deal. Many are satisfied with a simple and to the point delivery. Others use a variety of words with ease and in a natural style that makes for good entertainment.

There are still others who have decided at some point that they too must improve their vocabulary beyond the bare minimum if they are to stay competitive and keep their listeners coming back.

Listening to some of these individuals, I always have the mental image of words being rammed down the barrel of a gun and then blown onto a wall where they are read out at random without concern for the skewed syntax, malapropisms and generally weird effect that results.

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